CINCINNATI — Public health leaders are urging people to avoid crowds one day after the Hamilton County Commission declared a state of emergency over the spread of COVID-19 and just three days before 65,000 people will pack into Paul Brown Stadium.
Plenty of fans plan to come out to tailgate and see the Cincinnati Bengals win an NFL playoff game for the first time in 31 years.
"If you're planning on going to the stadium or to a bar I'd recommend you mask up," said Greg Kesterman, Hamilton County Health commissioner.
The region's six hospitals have 5,094 more COVID-19 patients than record totals recorded last week, according to county data. On average, 3.5 patients die each day. The rate of spread is rising too. One in every three people tested in the Tri-State area is positive, according to The Health Collaborative data. Health leaders blame the Omicron variant.
"It's amazing how many people I know personally are part of my team here at Hamilton County Public Health who are either quarantined or isolated," Kesterman said.
While the team plans to roll out no new protocols, Christ Hospital's President and Chief Executive Officer, Debbie Hayes, put responsibility on the 65,000 expected to gather in the stadium and those ready to party elsewhere.
"If you are fully vaccinated or boosted I think going to that game is fine," Hayes said. "But I would encourage everyone regardless of your vaccination status to wear a mask when you are in public."
It's a sentiment Mayor Aftab Pureval echoed during a press conference on Wednesday.
"I'm a massive Bengals fan, I'm incredibly proud of the team's accomplishment, winning the AFC North and hosting a game against Las Vegas," he said. "I'll be tailgating outside. While tailgating, I'll be wearing a mask. I'll be attending the game in the open air and while attending the game, I'll be wearing a mask."
He said Saturday's playoff showdown between the Bengals and the Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium should be safe for attendees who are fully vaccinated, boosted and wearing a mask.
"I'd recommend after you take a drink of your beer to put back on your mask," Kesterman said. "It's really a small ask that we are making right now because we know it can make a difference."
It feels cruel to some long-suffering fans seeing their favorite professional football team peak during the pandemic's largest surge.
"It does seem to be unfair because (the Bengals are) doing so well," Christy Holcombe, a Bengals fan. "It seems like everybody has to deal with something that's just not right for everybody to have to deal with right now."
Still, county leaders hope people are safe and responsible, to help slow the surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the region.